It’s Monday, which means it’s time for our regular feature: WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED ON LOST IT’S EVERYTHING I CAN DO TO AVOID A SPOILER RIGHT NOW MONDAYS!!! Oh. I mean Page Critique Monday. Which will occasionally be Query Critique Monday, One Sentence/One Paragraph/Two Paragraph Pitch Critique Monday, Synopsis Critique Monday, and Insert Other Kind of Monday.
A reminder of the rules (please read before posting because the first eligible comment will get the critique):
1. The first person to enter a 250 word excerpt from the beginning of their novel in the comment section will win the critique. Please also tell us the title and genre.
2. I will update the post with the excerpt, unedited, so we can all read and form our opinions.
3. I will later update the post again with the excerpt now featuring my redlines, thoughts, comments, drawrings, emoticons, and assorted other marginalia (but really only redlines, thoughts, and comments)
4. Feel free to add your own two cents, but remember the sandwich method: positive, extremely polite constructive criticism (and I mean it), positive. I’ve decreed you need to read and heed this creed or I’ll proceed to make you bleed. Indeed.
To the island! Or whatever it was!
UPDATE #1: THE EXCERPT
Here is the page. I’ll be back later with my critique.
Secrets of the Moon Fox
Arriving home, Liska noticed instantly, even before she got to the door, that someone was already inside. Living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired. Now, was whoever was inside looking for Liska or ‘Anna’?
She analyzed the place silently. There was no outward proof to back up her suspicions. The door was still shut, and apparently locked, the windows were shaded just as she had left them, but instinct, deep animal instinct warned her. Her den had been invaded. But by whom and why?
A college dorm room is not known for being overly secure. This dorm, built in the same mold of a motel, was even less so. Absolutely anyone could walk onto the campus, pick or force the sub-standard lock, and waltz in. Yes, she was on the second floor, which made random break-ins a touch less likely, but it wasn’t impossible. This didn’t feel random, though.
It could be a thief or an attacker that was focused on her or her current ‘safe’ persona. If that was the case, it would be wise to have Liska ready, even if not immediately apparent. On the other hand, it could be something logical and harmless, like the RA doing an inspection or leaving a note; or maintenance or the bug exterminator she had been warned would come by sometimes. Those would definitely be ‘Anna’ visitors. It could be a family member waiting for her; to deliver a message, or test her. Or both.
UPDATE #2: THE CRITIQUE
Thanks so much to HJHarding for offering up the page for critique. This is the third page critique in a row that begins with an interesting setup! In this case a potential burglary-in-progress or some other mysterious visitor. There’s an immediate question that sucks in the reader (Who is in there?) and my curiosity was definitely piqued. It also seems like there may be some sort of dual-identity thing going on, which I’d be curious to learn more about.
That said, I’m afraid I had a few concerns, which break down into three broad categories:
1) Building suspense/interest
As mentioned, this setup has a lot of potential: someone might be in this person’s home (or den… or dorm… more on that in a minute). And yet that’s basically all we learn about what’s actually happening. The rest of the page passes as the protagonist spends three paragraphs standing in place, idly wondering what is happening and running through a list of hypothetical possibilities.
There are no more clues even about how the protagonist knows or senses that someone is inside, so instead of learning more detail about the world or the character or the predicament, we have a character thinking, essentially: this could be dangerous or it could be harmless, who could say really?
Yes, there’s surely more to come, but I wasn’t sure I understood what the protagonist knew or how they knew what they knew, nor was I clear what they really felt about whatever it was they knew or suspected. If the intent is to build suspense (it may not be, but seems to be here), it’s far more suspenseful if the protagonist is actually acting on their curiosity, investigating, and noticing key details rather than idly wondering about hypotheticals.
And a good (though of course oft-excepted) rule of thumb: in the absence of dramatic irony, if the protagonist isn’t scared your reader probably isn’t going to be scared.
2) Specificity of Detail
It’s very important to keep in mind that just about every noun has a default mental image associated with it, and it’s one reason why it’s important to be as precise as possible with descriptions. When we read that someone is wielding a gun, unless you specify otherwise we’re going to assume the the character holding it in their hand and not their feet. When we read the word office, we’re going to assume there’s a desk, a computer, and maybe some filing cabinets unless the writer specifies otherwise.
And in this case, when the author says someone arrives at “home,” maybe it’s just me but I’m picturing a house without any clarifying detail. I don’t even live in a house and I still picture a house. But then it’s referred to as a “den,” and coming after the phrase “deep animal instinct,” I thought okay, this is an animal and they’re arriving back at their den. Then we get to “dorm,” and I had to revise my mental image a third time.
It’s a jarring experience for the reader to have to continually revise their mental image of a setting, and it doesn’t establish trust that the reader is in sure hands. In this case, the first line could have very easily specified that Liska was arriving back at her dorm room and we would have been on solid footing, since it’s specific. Then when we got to “den” we’d be more likely to read it as I suspect the author intends – that this character is part animal or has animal-like tendencies. But even then it’s important to clue the reader in that the character is literally thinking like an animal, and reinforce that interpretation as much as possible because it’s probably not the first place the reader’s mind is going to go.
I thought there were some interesting stylistic touches, but I’m afraid these paragraphs never quite got into a flow for me. Part of this was due to several tense inconsistencies, and there were also some sentences that felt broken off before their natural completion. I wasn’t feeling like one sentence was leading naturally to the next.
Also, I felt like some of the details were vague when they could have been more specific, and as a result I had some trouble unpacking the last paragraph on the page especially. For instance, is her entire family really prone to/capable of breaking into her dorm room or is there one or two specific family members that she’d be worried about?
Secrets of the Moon Fox
Arriving home, Liska noticed instantly, even before she got to the door, that someone was already inside. Living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired. Passive voice/fragment. It also feels a bit languid if we’re supposed to get the sense that she’s nervous – she just seems mildly bothered. (this might be the intent) Now, was whoever was inside looking for Liska or ‘Anna’? I am not anti-rhetorical questions in novels themselves. But I found this one a little jarring.
She analyzed the place silently “The place” feels a bit vague to me. Is there something in particular she’s looking at to help ground us?. There was no outward proof to back up her suspicions. The door was still shut, and apparently locked “apparently” locked? How can she tell?, the windows were shaded just as she had left them, but instinct, deep animal instinct warned her I’m afraid the repetition of “instinct, deep animal instinct” didn’t quite work for me. Her den had been invaded. But by whom and why?
A college dorm room is not known for being overly secure Aren’t they?. This dorm, built in the same mold of a motel, was even less so. Absolutely anyone could have walked onto the campus, picked or forced the sub-standard lock, and waltzed in. Yes, she was on the second floor, which made random break-ins a touch less likely, but it wasn’t impossible. This didn’t feel random, though I think this would read better without the “though”.
It could have been a thief or an attacker that was focused on her “that was focused on her” reads awkwardly – don’t think you need “that was”, and “focused” seems vague. What does “focused on” mean? Are they targeting her? Investigating her? Hunting her? or her current ‘safe’ persona. If that was were the case, it would have been wise to have Liska ready, even if not immediately apparent I’m not sure what “if not immediately apparent” means. On the other hand, it could have been something logical and harmless, like the RA doing an inspection or leaving a note; or maintenance or the bug exterminator she had been warned would come by sometimes. Those would definitely have been ‘Anna’ visitors. It could have been a family member waiting for her; to deliver a message, or test her. Or both.